There were two things Tom Crean did after Tuesday’s loss, Indiana’s third in a row.
One, he nodded to the calendar and reminded his Hoosiers that it is merely the first week of January, and plenty of time exists to fix the course of their season.
Two, he made sure everyone in the room understood that this was not the time to stray, that for the necessary healing to occur, the group must come together as one.
Because on a night when No. 25 IU came out uninspired and finished looking lost in a 75-68 loss to No. 13 Wisconsin at Simon Skjodt Assembly Hall, the Hoosiers far more resembled a team ravaged by disconnections than one with reachable championship aspirations.
“This is the time where you have to pull everybody in,” sophomore forward Juwan Morgan said. “It’s not just one player that’s going to get it done on the offensive or defensive side. It’s the whole team.”
Right now, the whole team just isn’t getting it done. Not even close.
The Hoosiers (10-5, 0-2) spotted the Badgers (13-2, 2-0) a 13-0 run to start the night, then got buried on the wrong end of a 10-2 Wisconsin run leading into the final media timeout.
“I don’t even know what to tell you about the start of the game,” Crean said. “It absolutely made no sense to me that they were giving them as much space as we gave them. … Against the best teams, you cannot have bad segments. We had a bad start. We got over it. But there was a lot of game left in that. Can’t have a bad segment near the end of the game.”
Indiana did, and is now in the midst of its longest losing skid since the end of the 2014-15 season, while staring at a two-game hole in the Big Ten standings for the first time since that forgettable 2013-14 season. The Hoosiers’ next chance to claim their first league win comes at home on Saturday against Illinois.
By then, IU will need Robert Johnson and James Blackmon Jr. to shake out of their recent shooting funks. It will need more even-handed play from Josh Newkirk and it will require Thomas Bryant to look more like the player with first-round draft potential instead of the one getting lost within recent games.
The Hoosiers seem so far removed from the play that allowed them to secure a pair of top-three wins over Kansas and North Carolina during the season’s first month. What’s the difference? Crean points to defense. Morgan points to the team’s willingness to fight through the stumbles. Turnovers, too, remain problematic.
IU turned the ball over four times in the first three minutes, leading directly to 10 quick Wisconsin points. All told, the Badgers produced 23 points off 13 Hoosier errors.
Despite the ugly start, the Hoosiers responded with a 10-0 run that got them within 16-12. They continued through much of the half in constant catch-up mode. Bryant sat for a stretch after picking up his second foul, while Ethan Happ had his way with the Hoosiers underneath the basket. Happ led all scorers with 19 points.
“We just weren’t taking away what we had (to take away from him),” Morgan said. “We knew what he wanted to do, and he did it.”
Late in the half, IU got within 32-30, while Wisconsin went more than two minutes without scoring. With 2:05 remaining before halftime, a Blackmon 3-pointer gave the Hoosiers their first lead of the night at 35-34.
The lone IU bright spot from Tuesday was the play of De’Ron Davis, who accepted a series of second-half post feeds and used his strength advantage and post moves to give IU a reliable scoring option around the basket. Davis finished with a co-team-high 12 points, with eight of those coming in the second half. Morgan also scored 12 points for Indiana.
After trailing 38-37 at halftime, IU’s increased attention to Davis helped keep the Hoosiers close in the second half.
The freshman played like a man, going back-to-the-basket and scoring seven quick points. He scored over Happ five minutes into the half, drawing a foul and hitting his free throw to tie the game at 46-all.
But the game seemed to get away from Indiana in the minutes approaching the final media timeout. IU couldn’t make much of several strange and unfocused offensive possessions, while Bryant got pushed around on the defensive end of the floor.
After a free throw by OG Anunoby put the Hoosiers ahead 57-56 coming out of the under-8 timeout, Wisconsin swung back with a 10-2 run that created important separation and helped seal Wisconsin’s win.
Afterwards, Crean sat at the dais inside the Assembly Hall press room and diagnosed some of the immediate problems.
The Hoosiers are missing too many open shots that they usually hit, he said. They’re not playing with enough urgency on defense. Correctable things, all. But things that must be reversed immediately.
“I’ve said this the last couple of days to them,” Crean said. “It comes down to a matter of inches. Today we were a little too far off. The game seemed like we were yards off.”
Then Crean looked down, tapped his fingers on the base of the microphone and took a long pause, as if he were waiting those simple solutions to materialize before him.